Over ten years ago, I participated in a cover-up of grand proportions. This is a story about intrigue, secrets, murder, conspiracy, and how the road to hell is paved with good intentions and paw prints.
I was having a party at my home for a co-worker who was moving away for a new opportunity. Since there would be some imbibing of adult beverages at the party and it was likely to be fairly crowded, my then-husband took my young daughter with him to his mother’s house, about a mile away. He also took my Jack Russell Terrier, “Ernesto the Pesto” (or “Ernie” to his friends) so that he wouldn’t get underfoot. His mother was going to be visiting at his grandmother’s house that evening, so having three unexpected house guests wouldn’t be an inconvenience for her.
My former mother-in-law is … How shall I put this? She’s a sensitive soul. She’s one of those people who is prone to sighing wistfully at Hallmark card commercials or flying into a fit of rage over an unreturned phone call. She’s the kind of person who cancels an outing to the zoo at the last minute, because she’s afraid seeing the animals in their cages will reduce her to tears. And she’s also the kind of person who, when she claims something will make her cry, is not exaggerating. If you don’t believe me, invite her to a scrapbooking party and see what happens.
She is also an animal lover, and had a cute little terrier of her own called “Emmy” and a big old tom cat named “Ben.” Both of these creatures were spoiled rotten, and enjoyed her large and luxuriously landscaped yard as their playground. Emmy and Ernie were good pals and enjoyed racing around the yard together whenever we visited, taking turns rolling in the compost pile and lounging about with their tongues hanging out. I was sure that Ernie would have a good time with his little friend during their visit.
A couple of hours after they had left, I received an odd phone call. My husband asked me if I had seen Ernie. “No, he’s with you,” I replied, with the hair standing up on the back of my neck.
“No, he’s not. Emmy’s here but I can’t find him around here anywhere. I was hoping he had come home.” He said he’d keep looking for him and would keep me posted, and I continued to attend to my guests.
After an hour, when I hadn’t heard anything from him and Ernie had not appeared back at home, I called to get an update. “Did you find him?” I asked.
“Oh… I found him alright,” he replied.
“What happened? Is he O.K.!?”
“Ernie is just fine. But, Ben on the other hand…”
And then he told me the story while I tried to hide my horrified expression from my guests.
Apparently, during the time that Ernie was missing, he had somehow become trapped in the guest bathroom with Ben. What took place behind that door is unclear, but the result was Ben shuffling off his mortal coil and Ernie (and the bathroom walls, and rug, and mirror, and ceiling) being splattered with blood. It took almost no discussion for us to agree that we could never, ever tell his mother what had happened. We justified this to one another by saying that she was too emotional and fragile to take such a shock. (Not to mention that the tirade of tearful rage we would have had to endure would have been epic.)
He brought Ernie home and picked up a couple of Disney movies while he was there. I excused myself from my guests for a few minutes while I gave Ernie a thorough bath and a scolding, while he panted with post-murder excitement. My husband returned to his mother’s house with my daughter and gave her a selection cookies and the TV remote after putting one of the Disney movies in for her. He then scrubbed the entire bathroom several times. At one point he called me to comment, “I don’t know how anyone ever gets away with murder. Just when I think I’ve got all of the blood, I take another look at I see more that I missed. It’s on the ceiling for Christ’s sake!” He ended up using an inventive combination of bleach, a hose, and a shop-vac to finally eradicate all of the evidence. He then slyly took a few popsicles out of the refrigerator, put them down the garbage disposal, and left the sticks on the counter, along with a note for his mother that said, “Did a load of towels in the laundry. Someone got a little messy with her popsicles.” Lastly, he took poor Ben’s remains to a vacant lot obscured by trees and buried him where he would never be found.
Over the following days, my mother-in-law commented from time to time that she hadn’t seen much of Ben. “He is pretty old,” she would say. “Maybe he wandered off somewhere to die in peace.” Fortunately for us, she erroneously recalled having seen him the morning after the party, so all suspicion of us having a role in his disappearance was circumvented by her faulty memory.